Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Dec 22 19:30:00 UTC 2004

On Wed, 22 Dec 2004 09:50:29 -0800, Arnold M. Zwicky
<zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:

>On Dec 22, 2004, at 9:09 AM, Baker, John wrote:
>>         I think it's just a case of an obscure word being tapped to
>> fill a need.  I have to redact documents on a regular basis (i.e.,
>> edit them to remove identifying, privileged, or irrelevant
>> information).  If that were to be described as just editing them, it
>> would not be clear without additional explanation, and I cannot
>> offhand think of any other words that would make sense.
>i think the question here is: when and in what circumstances did
>"redact" develop from its general 'edit' sense (reported by NSOED from
>the mid-19th century) -- essentially, a fancy or technical *synonym* of
>"edit" -- to this more specific sense?  the development is natural
>enough, but it wasn't inevitable (though, like all linguistic changes,
>from the point of view of the users of the innovative form it might
>seem so).
>in any case, the long-established verb for this sort of activity was
>"censor" (and "black out" could easily have been specialized for this
>purpose; it describes well the particular method used for censoring,
>and is appropriately restricted to written or printed material [1]).
>at some point someone decided that "censor" needed replacement (and
>fixed on the learned verb "redact") -- undoubtedly because censorship
>is so, well, *nasty*.  the development  looks to me like linguistic
>laundering of vocabulary.
>the development is recent enough that it's not in AHD4, which has only
>the older, more general, sense.

The earliest relevant cite on the Nexis database suggests that US
government officials began using "redacted" as a synonym for "censored" in
the '70s:

   Washington Post, Dec 19, 1978, A2
   Prosecutors in the FBI break-ins case mistakenly circulated to
   defense lawyers highly classified material that is only supposed
   to be seen or discussed in a spy-proof vault.
   Attorneys for three former top FBI officials charged in the case
   made the disclosure yesterday in a lively pretrial hearing where
   they protested Justice Department attempts to get the documents
   back for censoring as part of a proposal to place strict limits
   on collecting new information.
   The lawyers voiced special opposition yesterday to a government
   request that they return their clients' grand jury testimony to
   be "redacted" - censored - of material containing "sensitive
   compartmented information (SCI)."

-- Ben Zimmer

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